Making scientific figures

Making scientific figures

Preparing scientific figures is an essential part of a research project where data preservation, readability and aesthetic need to be balanced. This doesn't need to be a stressful nor expensive experience. Free powerful open source software are available to replace costly and often complicated commercial ones. 

In biology, there are three kinds of images you need to consider:

  • Graphical Data - these are mostly graphs, extracted from your statistical software of choice like SOFA or JAPS, but can also be 3D models of proteins eg. from Pymol or protein/nucleic acid alignments from software such as SnapGene.
  • Scientific images - taken from with a microscope or a camera.
  • Conceptual images - usually an impactful drawing that summarises your findings.

These images are then assembled in a coherent figure, the format of which is dictated by the journal you want to publish in.

For image analysis, manipulation and figure making

We recommand that you use Fiji

The FigureJ plugin leverages the tools available in ImageJ/Fiji to make scientific figures.  It easily assembles multi-panel image, annotates them and places the all important scale bar.

For Conceptual Images

If drawing scares you, Biorender is a place to go. BioRender has a library of pre-made icons and templates that can easily be manipulated.  For a small fee, you easily get a publication quality conceptual image. 

If however you want to draw a vector-based image in your own style, use Inkscape.  Inkscape is a free and powerful image designing software.  You can supplement Inkscape with one of the millions icons from the Noun Project.



Noun Project

For Figure Making

If FigureJ is not flexible enough for your liking, GIMP is a free image editor (similar to Adobe Photoshop).  

Training workshop and support

  • Please contact Matthieu Vermeren, he runs training workshops on a regular basis.
  • Download the CRM, University of Edinburgh and CRM templates on the branding page. This page also has a powerpoint presentation 'About CRM' with, amongst others, images of the building and the all staff picture you can use for your presentations.

Dr Matthieu Vermeren

Imaging Facility Manager

  • Centre for Regenerative Medicine
  • Institute for Regeneration and Repair

Contact details